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A Bandwagoner’s Guide To The Second Round Of The Stanley Cup Playoffs

A giant replica of Stanley Cup, on April 17, 2024, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)
Artur Widak/NurPhoto

We've entered the second round of the NHL playoffs, which means it's prime bandwagoning season for hockey fans. Three-fourths of the teams are golfing, but eight options remain before you. If your boys have been eliminated, or never made it, or just moved to Utah, now is the time to attach yourself to someone new, if even just for a few weeks.

In this blog, I'll cover each of the teams still fighting for a Cup. I'll give you a pro, a con, and one local tradition that'll help you adapt to your new community, should you decide to join up. The second round has already started, so there's not a second to waste!

New York Rangers

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Something To Cheer For: It's the power play and the stars that constitute it. Artemi Panarin made a gigantic leap as a do-it-himself scorer this year, but he remains one of the league's top passers, and giving him extra space on the ice is completely unfair. Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider are the best buds who can find the net. And Vincent Trocheck, once typecast as a hidden gem who did the little things that secure victories, is becoming increasingly prominent on the scoresheet, including a goal in each of his last four. With their 4-3 Game 1 win over Carolina on Sunday, it was these top forwards that carried the weight, and it was the Rangers' 2-for-2 power play that proved superior to the Canes' 0-for-5.

Something To Complain About: They haven't lost a game yet! Do they think they're better than us? Walking around with their heads held high. Home-ice advantage clowns. Oooh, I bet you're sooo comfortable avoiding all the anxieties of playoff hockey. Go get your heart broken in overtime like a normal person.

Fan Tradition: When the New York Rangers score a goal, their true fans celebrate by dropping wide, thin slices of pizza onto each other's heads.

Carolina Hurricanes

Something To Cheer For: Yay, shot differential! Under head coach Rod Brind'Amour, the Hurricanes have been a rock-solid team in large part because they keep the puck far away from their own net. This past season, they were best in the league at preventing shots against and third-best at shooting. It's the combination of intensity and execution from the skaters that makes it work. Though only Sebastian Aho really approaches that transcendent individual status you'd expect to find on a legit contender, the Hurricanes fight with the power of arithmetic on their side.

Something To Complain About: In the past five postseasons, as they've won zero conference final games, Carolina has been repeatedly stonewalled by starry squads that can finish their scoring chances at a higher rate. Goaltending, while not as concerning as it was earlier in the year, is still a soft spot that the league's elite can exploit, and when push comes to shove, a good plan on paper will only go so far. Over a long enough period of time, I love the Canes' win probability. But seven games go by in a blink.

Fan Tradition: When the Carolina Hurricanes score a goal, their true fans celebrate by swinging their canes at each other's heads.

Florida Panthers

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Something To Cheer For: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The Panthers are a fiercely competitive squad that, after an ascent based on wild scoring, found a more effective identity as the NHL's tough guys during their hack-and-slash journey through the East last spring. They do everything they can to get on your nerves and avoid retribution. In The Athletic's anonymous player survey from their year, Florida's Nick Cousins and Matthew Tkachuk finished first and third respectively on their "player you'd most like to punch" question. Since most fans would prefer their nerves to be unoccupied, and the Panthers back their shenanigans with legitimate talent, I can't blame you for going Quisling mode.

Something To Complain About: Even coming off his best season yet in Florida, and a year removed from a surprise playoff resurgence, I still don't know if I have faith in the 35-year-old big-money goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to carry the load. His Tampa series was fine enough, and he started Game 1 on Monday with a few spectacular saves. But that tight battle devolved into a 5-1 loss due to a mix of Bob's poor positioning, hellacious screening by Boston, and defensive lapses by the Panthers in front of him. Florida was the team that impressed me the most in the first round, so I'm jumping a little at the chance to pick apart a flaw. But that's life in the playoffs.

Fan Tradition: When the Florida Panthers score a goal, their true fans celebrate by squeezing a bottle of suntan lotion onto each other's heads.

Boston Bruins

Something To Cheer For: The goalies love each other. For the past three seasons, the veteran Linus Ullmark has split time in the crease with the younger Jeremy Swayman, and the combined force of this tandem is a key strength for the Bruins. Because you can only put one goalie at a time on the ice—right now, Swayman's the go-to—one could imagine this roster setup as a competitive situation where both men devote themselves to surpassing the other. At least from the outside, however, there's no sign that either of these guys are anything but team players. Look at them celebrate a win!

I despise the Bruins and root for their failure at all turns, but even I can't help but be charmed by Swayman and Ullmark.

Something To Complain About: This has been a fun stretch for Bruins-despisers, because they always blow it. In the Brad Marchand era, they probably should have won two or three Cups, but after their 2011 triumph they've choked again and again, most recently when they wasted an all-time great season and a 3-1 lead over the Panthers in the first round. Since that Cup win, the Bruins have lost all five of their Game 7s played in scenarios that are not "facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round." The Leafs don't count! Even that dismantling of the Panthers in Game 1 means nothing until they prove they can close. As Meryl Streep once said about Jim Montgomery's coaching, "I have such doubts!"

Fan Tradition: When the Boston Bruins score a goal, their true fans celebrate by raiding the nearest shipment of British East India Company tea, then tossing it at each other's heads.

Dallas Stars

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Something To Cheer For: Wyatt Johnston is this indefatigable child who just led the Stars to victory over the Golden Knights. A mere 20 years old, the first-round pick from 2021 somehow managed to play 101 playoff and regular season games as a rookie, then 89 and counting as a sophomore without slowing down a beat. He's making the absolute most out of his minutes, notching 32 goals and 33 assists this year, and he brings an energy and aggressiveness to the ice that balance out nicely with the more aged bodies of many of his teammates. Dallas has been enjoying success because their younger dudes are developing quickly while their older crones are declining slowly, and Johnston is one of the big strong hands holding that championship window open.

Something To Complain About: After barely escaping the first round, it's worth worrying a bit about Dallas's slumpers. Luckily for them, they're a deep team, and goaltender Jake Oettinger is back in top form. But that still doesn't excuse Roope Hintz contributing just a single empty-net goal and Joe Pavelski picking up no points whatsoever. If they're going to take down a force like the Avalanche, the Stars need their stars to wake up.

Fan Tradition: When the Dallas Stars score a goal, their true fans celebrate by pouring delicious bowls of beanless, ground-beef-based chili onto each other's heads.

Colorado Avalanche

Something To Cheer For: Nathan MacKinnon is a big-time exciting hero who paced the Lanche Lads all year. Scoring a career-high 51 goals while leading the league in shots, Mac is a fireball on skates that makes opposing defenders cower. While more of a facilitator as his team walked over the Jets, both his stick and his gravitational pull in the offensive zone helped Colorado score more goals per game than any other squad in the first round. Alongside his partner in crime Mikko Rantanen, MacKinnon was on the ice for 16 Avs goals (against just five allowed). Only the Oilers' Leon Draisaitl bettered that total.

Something To Complain About: Colorado's glaring weakness is at goalie. Alexandar Georgiev was nothing special as a backup with the Rangers, then unexpectedly good in his first season in Denver last year, and now unsteady in his follow-up campaign. Nobody in the NHL worked more minutes between the pipes than Georgiev did, but he tied for 17th among all goalies by recording just 27 "quality starts"—essentially, games where you play to league average. The Avs' offense is good enough to paper over a lot of off-nights, and Georgiev was groovy in the last four games against Winnipeg. But don't trust him.

Fan Tradition: When the Colorado Avalanche score a goal, their true fans celebrate by dumping beer that's as cold as the Rockies onto each other's heads.

Vancouver Canucks

Derek Cain/Getty Images

Something To Cheer For: Canucks Magic has carried them this far, and if you're going to bandwagon Vancouver, you need to believe. Picked to be mediocre (again) at the start of the regular season? Canucks Magic! Forced to start your third-string goalie in the first round? Canucks Magic! Haven't won a real postseason series since 2011? Canucks Magic! Time and again, this team has foiled the haters by converting a disproportionate number of shots into goals, conjuring clutch contributions from secondary players, and stopping their foes from scoring through tactics both tangible and mysterious. They're the most blatant underdogs left; they wouldn't have it any other way.

Something To Complain About: Elias Pettersson, the forward at the center of this team's future plans, has been a magnet for criticism, especially as he went without a goal through the entire Nashville series. I asked our resident 'Nucks sicko, Maitreyi Anantharaman, to give me the Why behind the hate:

Well now he’s the highest-paid player on the team, which doesn’t help, but that doesn’t explain all of it; fans definitely complained about him before. I think Swedish players bring out some people’s latent Don Cherry-itis—see also: “the Sedin sisters” or Leafs fans’ five-year bout of Nylander derangement syndrome. I’m now totally riffing here, but I think some of those people read blonde hair and style as signifiers of softness/laziness/grit...lessness?

You, brave bandwagoner, are better than that. But I still give you permission to moan about the goal song.

Fan Tradition: When the Vancouver Canucks score a goal, their true fans celebrate by smacking each other with the gigantic trunk of a western red cedar. On the head.

Edmonton Oilers

Something To Cheer For: This is easy. It's Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and ... Zach Hyman? Fine. Hyman's in his third year as an Oiler, and at 31 years old, he blew up with 54 goals partially on his talent and partially because McDavid is a paragon of generosity. The Oilers' demon cut his goal total in half this season while setting a new career high with 100 assists, and this unselfishness carried over into the playoffs. While Draisaitl kept plugging along at his usual pace, McDavid tortured the Kings by way of just one goal and 11 assists—five of them to Hyman. Even if McDavid's not lighting the lamp himself, that intake of breath you hear whenever he carries the puck into the offensive zone leaves no doubt about who remains Edmonton's headlining attraction.

Something To Complain About: The Kings didn't give them much fuss, but the defense below the top-line pairing of Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm will continue to take heat, as will the Oilers' third and fourth lines when matched up against greater depth. Contrasted with the dominance of Edmonton's best lineups, the serfs who fill up the rest of the ice time can't help but look like a JV squad. Also, Connor should start scoring some damn goals!

Fan Tradition: When the Edmonton Oilers score a goal, their true fans celebrate by dripping oil onto each other's heads. Be careful!

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